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How a small Hispanic electorate could decide Tuesday's Georgia congressional race

Some 20,000 Hispanic voters could decide the runoff contest in District 6, which is the most expensive election in congressional history. Democrats have not won there since 1979.
20 Jun 2017 – 01:25 PM EDT
Ossoff vs Handel Crédito: Getty/ David Maris

“To win we have to organize the Latino community,” Democratic party candidate Jon Ossoff told a cheering crowd of Latinos the other day. “Because your votes will make the difference.”

From bilingual volunteers to Spanish-language radio and television ads to a “ Latinos for Ossoff” Facebook group, Ossoff is hoping for a strong Latino turnout in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, which is holding a special election Tuesday for a House of Representatives seat.

Though representing just 4.3 percent of eligible voters in the district, organizers say there’s been unprecedented enthusiasm among Latinos, who see the election as a referendum on President Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant policies.

According to polls, Democrat Jon Ossoff holds a slight lead over Republican Karen Handel.

Among Georgia’s 14 representatives in Congress, nine are Republicans. The 6th District, an affluent area in North Atlanta, has been a Republican stronghold since 1979, when it was taken from Democrats by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Since 2005, Tom Price held the seat.

But when Price became Trump's Health and Human Services secretary in February, Democrats saw the possibility of gaining a seat in the House of Representatives -- a prospect that would have been impossible just months ago.

In April, Ossoff obtained 48.2 percent of the votes in a primary, and advanced to the June 20 one-on-one runoff.

The race has turned into the most expensive in U.S. congressional history, with the two parties spending almost a combined $60 million on the campaign.

Ossoff has spent twice as much as Handel and his campaign has managed to raise six times more funds than the Republican, according to data from

With Ossoff ahead by such a small margin (between two and seven percent, depending on the poll), the small Hispanic voting population in the outskirts of Atlanta could attain greater significance than usual.

“The Latino community here has woken up,” Diana Bonete, who leads Latino outreach for Ossoff’s campaign, told Univision in April. “We’re seeing a lot of first-time Latino volunteers who have never had an interest in being involved. A lot of people want to be mobilized. A lot of Latino millennials.”

Last week, Handel ran a Spanish-language TV ad, which linked Ossoff with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and the perceived evils of "big government" and "bad spending" in Washington.

While not aimed at the Hispanic community specifically, the ad appears aimed at fiscally conservative Hispanics.

On the Democrat side, Ossoff's campaign has run a number of Spanish-language ads. It’s sent out some of its 12,000 volunteers to canvass Hispanic voters.

Latino Victory Fund, an organization that promotes progressive candidates, has gotten involved in the last weeks of the campaign sending staff help the Ossoff campaign, according to Jorge Silva, a spokesman for the Washington-based group.

"This is a very important campaign and we think it will send a message to Trump and his radical agenda ... We believe that Ossoff will fight Trump and his anti-Hispanic policies in Congress and truly represent the needs of the entire population of the 6th District," Silva said.

With 470,000 eligible voters across the district, both parties are seeking to maximize the turnout of voters who stayed home in April.

Political operators and observers expect the turnout on Tuesday to exceed normally dismal midterm election performance. There has been a record number of early votes, with 140,000 ballots already cast, twice as much as in April and almost three-quarters of the overall vote tally in the first round.

Although Ossoff first appeared as the embodiment of the so-called liberal "resistance" to the Trump administration, in recent weeks the Democrat has avoided making references to the president and has focused on the issues he considers to be of interest to the community such as jobs, health and education.

Democrats are hoping that the 6th Georgia district is a showcase for their supporters of a change of mood in the country since the November election, potentially raising expectation that the party can win the 24 seats needed to regain control of Congress in 2018.

On the other hand, defeat for Ossoff, combined with recent losses in Montana and Kansas, could add to liberal frustration in the Trump era.

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